FORT WAYNE — No team has scored more points against Saint Francis this season than Marian when it rang up 45 on the Cougars six weeks ago.
“In that game, our defense – even the linebackers – we took the brunt of the blame, and we’ve all said we’re not going to let that happen again,” senior linebacker Brody Kalbaugh said. “Since that game, we’ve come a long way.”
Since that game, Saint Francis (9-2) hasn’t lost. Since that game, the Cougars have won five in a row and have given up a combined 50 points to those five opponents, which includes a 22-17 victory over Baker last week in the first round of the NAIA playoffs.
The second round is Saturday at Marian (9-1), and so comes a second chance to atone for the 45-38 loss.
“You look at the previous game five weeks ago, six weeks ago, whatever it was,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said.
“See what took place; what went well and what didn’t. Then you look at recent films to see what’s changed, and you have to try to adjust accordingly.”
What went well was that the Cougars gained 522 total yards, including a 27-of-45, 322-yards, three-touchdown day for quarterback David Yoder, who is expected to play again Saturday as starter Josh Miller remains hobbled with a high ankle sprain.
Saint Francis jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter Oct. 13 against Marian but couldn’t hold back a relentless Marian running game that was led by tailback Tevin Lake, who ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
And while Kalbaugh said the defense took much of the blame for the 45-38 loss, there was also a reason.
“Not only were we playing with backups, but we were playing with backups of the backups,” defensive coordinator Warren Maloney said.
“Now, I still think we should have performed better. I don’t care who’s in there. If they’re wearing the Saint Francis uniform, they should be able to do the job.”
But Kalbaugh, the inside linebacker who was the team’s leading tackler last season, had prematurely returned after breaking his fibula against Saint Xavier two weeks earlier.
“Justin Juarez was hurt,” Maloney said. “Brody was hurt. (Quinn) Doan had just come back; he hadn’t taken a snap in practice all week. (Ethan) Chappell had been dealing with a knee injury. And that’s just inside. Outside, we didn’t have Joe Torres. He gets sick there. He plays the first possession and that’s it; he’s done.
“We were thin. I don’t want to use that as an excuse. I don’t care who’s out there, we should get it done.”
But the Cougars couldn’t. After punting its first two series, Marian scored five touchdowns and a field goal.
“We’re focused,” said Kalbaugh, who says he’s 100 percent.
“It’s payback. We let them get away with one last time.”